Jeffrey joins our faculty at the 2015 retreat.

Read Hope Wabuke’s interview with Jeffrey in Guernica:


Hope Wabuke interviews Jeffery Renard Allen
May 15, 2015

“In America at that time, the idea of a black genius was not something that anyone could wrap their heads around,” Jeffery Renard Allen tells me. He is talking about the climate surrounding black musician Blind Tom, the historical figure who inspired his most recent novel, Song of the Shank. Set in the 1800s, the book traces Tom’s journey as he’s born into slavery, separated from his mother when still a small child, and forced to perform at concerts for the financial gain of his white owners. Amid all this, Blind Tom finds success; he becomes the first African-American musician to play at the White House. “And yet,” says Allen, “here we are in the twentieth century, and he has been completely written out of history.”

Allen grew up in Chicago in the ’60s. He describes it as a “turbulent time,” recalling the murder of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton by the Chicago Police Department, and the violence against protesters during the 1968 Democratic Convention. But through his mother’s volunteer work for social justice organizations, he came to understand the power of hope—and empathy. In a New York Times review of Song of the Shank, Mitchell S. Jackson wrote of Allen: “One of his immense gifts is his skill at imagining his characters’ piquant voices, the most memorable of which belongs to his protagonist.” Jackson called the novel an “imaginative work only a prodigiously gifted risk-taker could produce.”

Read the Full Interview Here:

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